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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Madonna takes part in development of new app

March 08, 2022

Researchers at Madonna’s Institute for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering are helping to develop a new app that will assist clinicians and their patients with their rehabilitation efforts. Known as “Access Assistant,” the app will help clinicians identify technological solutions that patients with high-level spinal cord injuries, brainstem stroke or ALS can use to control their computers, communication devices, tablets and phones.

“After a severe injury, access to technology is critical for patients to be able to participate in life,” Susan Fager, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, director of the Communication Center in the Institute for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals, said. “While many access options exist, deciding on what solutions best match a patient’s unique needs can be a daunting task for clinicians. We are excited to develop an app that clinicians will be able to use to help patients interact more independently with technology in school, work, home and life activities.”

The project is a collaboration among Fager and Tabatha Sorenson, a Madonna occupational therapist; Heidi Koester, Ph.D., president of Koester Performance Research; and Erik Jakobs, a research and development engineer at Penn State University. Additionally, the development project has been made possible by a $4.6 million grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) for the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (RERC on AAC). This prestigious federal grant identifies Madonna as one of only 14 currently funded RERCs across the country.

Over the past year, clinicians, special educators, and rehabilitation engineers around the U.S. with expertise in assistive technology have worked with Madonna’s researchers to identify the key components necessary for the app. Once the app is fully developed, Madonna researchers will take the lead in evaluating the technology with clinicians and their patients.

“Madonna researchers have a strong background in gathering and implementing feedback from patients and clinicians in the development of new technology,” Fager said. “We will harness that expertise to help the team develop an intuitive app that addresses the needs of clinicians and their patients.”

Fager has also recently been named a Fellow by the American Speech Language Hearing Association. This fellowship—which is retained for life—is one of the highest honors bestowed by the organization.

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